Who is Jesus?

Christ is risen! 

Indeed He is risen! 

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Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?”  John 8:51-53)

Christ’s interlocutors were beginning to understand Jesus, and they didn’t like or agree with what was becoming clear.  So they question him about exactly who He was claiming to be.  It is the real question of the Gospels themselves.  Read the Gospel according to Mark and note all the times the question is asked, Who is Jesus that He… (heals, controls storms, feeds thousands)?  Note how many times even when that question isn’t directly asked, it is implied in the text.  Mark sets out to answer that question: Who is Jesus?  His Gospel text is the evidence he is offering as to why he believes Jesus to be the Messiah and Lord. The Gospel is asking us to accept its opening statement: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).  That statement is Mark’s thesis and the rest of the Gospel is the evidence he offers for why he believes Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.  Who Jesus is and claims to be is the basis of Christian theology.

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Fr John Breck comments on who Jesus is:

“…Jesus Christ is described in a plethora of images: the Prophet, the King, the Messiah, the High Priest, the Lamb and the Suffering Servant, to name a few. Each of these images, and the many others, contain a vital insight into the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is himself more than any one of these particular elements.

There are two basic axioms that determine this model and the theological reflection of the centuries … The first is that only God can save.  It is God who is at work in Christ; Christ himself is the very Word of God, just as the Gospel is of God not of man (Gal 1:11; Rom 1:1).  The second axiom is that only as a human being can God save human beings.  While forgiveness could be bestowed from a far, the last enemy, death, was not overcome except by Christ voluntarily dying on behalf of all, so demonstrating his divinity (Rom 5:6-8), ensuring his victory over death, and transforming death itself, for all those who die with Christ, into a life-giving death.   (GOD WITH US, pp 281, 282)

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The early Christians had certain understandings about the world, God, God’s promises and plan.  These shaped their interpretation of who Jesus is based on what He did and said.  The Patristic tradition is basically a long discernment of and discussion of “who is Jesus?”  They were not aiming to create a complex theology but rather were trying to make sense of the evidence.  As time goes by, their conclusions are tested against non-Christian philosophies, religions and traditions and against competing Christian interpretations of Christ.  In an effort to convince the teachers and intellectuals of other traditions about the truth of the Gospel, they had to consider Christ’s relationship to the assumptions that were thought to be true by intelligent people or by most of the population.  The early Christians learned  to answer the question, Who is Jesus?, in terms that non-Christians could understand because they dealt with their questions, their beliefs and their assumptions.  As Christianity spread in the Hellenized pagan culture, Christian evangelists and apologists had to speak in the language of the greater culture so that they would be listened to and so that people could see the relationship of Christian thought to the world and its philosophies.

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“… to affirm that ‘God is with us’ is to say that God personally shares our every experience, including suffering and death.  He does so completely and with utter faithfulness, as an expression of His limitless love.  That love defines His very being and existence (‘God is love,’ the apostle affirms (1 Jn 4), using the term agape ontologically and not just metaphorically). Through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we have access to God the Father at every moment and in every circumstance.  Christ is and remains Lord of the Church, Head of the universal Body of those who live ‘in Him’–through baptism as well as through physical death—and grants them to share eternally in His own glorified life.”  (John Behr, THE WAY TO NICEA, pp 74-75)